A New Book Discussing the Dynamic and Multi-theoretical Basis of Early Childhood Education and Care in Finland

Jonna Kangas & Heidi Harju-Luukkainen

Across the Nordic countries a systematic dialogue is carried out on multiple levels of the education system. Reforms are jointly discussed and educational policies and practices are shared between the Nordic countries. The political and social attention towards Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) has increased over the past decade internationally, but especially in Finland where multiple major educational reforms have taken place. The reform included political changes when ECEC was transferred from social policy to the Ministry of Education in 2013 and the process continued with a curricula reform when new educational goals were set for ECEC practices. In many other countries, which are undertaking educational reforms, the Finnish process and its results are viewed carefully (see Garvis, Phillipson & Harju-Luukkainen, 2018). Therefore, it is important to note that no education system is developed in a vacuum, but rather in a dynamic and multi-theoretical context, forming a diverse basis for research and practice. This diverse and dynamic nature of the Finnish ECEC system is a strength, making it interesting globally as well. From these premises, we took the opportunity to write this blog text. This text is based on our recent book “Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care – A Multi-theoretical perspective on Research and Practice”, published in June 2022 by Springer Nature. The book comprises 19 chapters describing the dynamic and multi-theoretical nature of Finnish Early Childhood Education from various points of view.  All of the chapters in the book are a balance of multiple theoretical perspectives and empirical data. Each of the chapters highlights the following aspects,

  • research on the field of Early Childhood Education in Finland
  • country’s policies and/or practices connected to this area of research
  • theory and empirical data 
  • critical perspectives and possible developmental objects are highlighted.

The authors come from different universities in Finland, from the Ministry of Education and Culture and municipalities, in order to give width to the perspectives of the system as well as contemporary research issues. It also comprises top-level researchers from abroad with a profound understanding of the Finnish ECEC, in order to give an external perspective on the issues. 

In Finland, ECEC is seen as an investment in the future. The aim of ECEC is not only to prepare children for school but to give them tools and competencies for life such as self-efficacy, resilience, learning-to-learn skills, and happiness through holistic wellbeing (see Kangas, Ojala & Venninen, 2015). Globally, policymakers have recognised the benefits of good quality early childhood education and care on children’s learning and development. Therefore governments globally are starting to understand that good quality ECEC plays a crucial role in developing a country’s social and economic potential now and for the future. However, still after these reforms, according to Unicef (2019) only half of all pre-primary-age children around the world are enrolled in preschool, teachers lack good quality training and there is a worldwide shortage of ECEC teachers. The lack of resources and the dissatisfaction with the increasing demands of teaching work causes among other factors teachers’ withdrawal from their profession. Our previous results (Harju-Luukkainen & Kangas, 2021; Kangas & Harju-Luukkainen, 2021) suggest that teachers are given a large number of different roles as well as values across the different policy documents. Teachers are asked to be more of everything now and in the future. For instance, more research-oriented, more critical thinkers, better active agents, better knowledge processors, more digital, stronger multi-professional networkers, and to have better competency for assessment based personal development (which is not standardized in the Finnish educational model). However, how all of this is achieved by the individual teacher, is not stated. 

The ECEC system in Finland is one of the most equal ones in the world and should be understood through its holistic and multi-theoretical foundation combining education and care through the EduCare approach. The systematic and goal-oriented ECEC consists of upbringing, education and care where pedagogy is emphasized. In Finland it is based on a scientific understanding of education through developmental psychology, sociology, theories of democracy, sustainable development, inclusion, pedagogy, management, organizational psychology, and wellbeing among others. Therefore, for instance, the early childhood teacher training lies on a multi-theoretical foundation, where each teacher has to find a personal theoretical approach to teaching. This is done because teachers organize their everyday interaction, teaching, and care-related actions based on a wide understanding of the development, learning, agency, and wellbeing of children. High-quality teacher education is based on reflective practices, where university-trained teachers use their multi-theoretical knowledge and holistic understanding to assess and develop the pedagogical practices to answer the changing needs of children and society. Therefore, it can be stated that ECEC in Finland is a unique combination of international influences and local interests to put each child and family at the center of the services.

There is also a need to take a critical perspective on the research described in our book. In the book there is a research area that is left unnoticed throughout the chapters. The focus of policy and research is not described as connected to the future, but the perspective relies on evidence of past actions and contexts. It is important to note that early childhood education is strongly focusing on the holistic approach of lifelong learning from toddlerhood to higher education and beyond, making the future of education a key element of all teaching. The trend of life-long learning views citizens as learning and transforming individuals that take responsibility for their personal learning and life from a young age onwards (Harju-Luukkainen & Kangas, 2021). Despite this, the value of early childhood education is presented for the children and their parents as something that is only “here and now”. In the Finnish ECEC the child is seen as an active member of their society, and each individual child has the right to participate and belong to the education through their personal interests and capacities. This dualistic approach to education is one of the core elements of Finnish early childhood education and care policies and practices. Therefore, all the possible “futures” need to be kept open for the children and enable children’s participation and agency in education every day, since we do not know what the future holds for them. (see Kangas et al., 2019).

The book ”Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care – A Multi-theoretical perspective on Research and Practice” raises critical aspects to consider for policymakers and practitioners of ECEC both in Finland and globally. Each chapter’s implications and recommendations show a critical understanding and holistic conceptualization of early education: In Finnish ECEC different aspects, such as teacher education, curriculum, classroom practices, parental cooperation and services for families, evaluation and assessment, educational policies or leadership are not seen as individual elements, but rather as a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon where certain values and perspectives always need to consider. 

Further on when following the implication recommendations of the authors, the role and quality of the teacher education should be considered in the critical discourse on the quality of the early education. Teacher education policies and practices together with a strong scientific foundation are the basis for the development of education in the future.  Finnish teacher education is based on a multi-disciplinary, multi-theoretical and critical approach, where the theory and practice form a holistic compound of teaching and learning in different contexts of ECEC. Further, teacher training students are the future driving force of education and they will influence thousands of children’s everyday lives years and decades after their teacher training. That is why the role of science-based and critical teacher education is one essential foundation of the Finnish ECE and will have an important role, also in the future. 

The political orientation to develop the educational systems towards perfection is strong in Finland and different stakeholders aim to control this development through guiding documents. One of the latest, by the Ministry of Education and Culture (Jokinen & Nieminen, 2019), brings into focus the visions for the future. Future visions can be used to contextualize and form coherent entities and interconnections about the ideas of the future with different forces, trends, and signals that are driving the change. The aim of this vision work is to understand through the future values they present – and the present values they critically review – to create new values for innovative and entrepreneurial development, or in a more general sense, by taking the understanding and responsible actions to address global challenges, such as exclusion, resource scarcity, and climate change. The Finnish ECEC does this through the holistic approach of learning as an adaptation process to culture and society. However, in an educational system that acknowledges the importance of education in the child’s holistic learning, well-being and development, the actual operations and pedagogy can be based on factors that restrict opportunities for learning and wellbeing (Kangas et al. 2020). Future education in the early years requires a vision of sustainability and resilience through the multi-voiced discussion about social and cultural values together with economical viewpoints. In each country the early childhood education processes, as well as curricula, are emphasizing the quality of early childhood education as well as focus on the best possible future for the children. When early education practices and policies are not clearly defined and the development of practices is not based on research-based decision-making, this leads to differences in the interpretations on the operational and political levels (see Harju-Luukkainen & al.  2019). As we claimed before, early childhood education has multi-theoretical and dynamic descriptions located, and further developed, in different contexts and cultures. 

For the future Finnish ECEC new knowledge, understanding, insights, ideas, techniques, strategies, and solutions are required to solve problems, both old and new. In the future, education can only remain up to date with strong efforts to find knowledge and create practices that make it easier to understand a changing, sometimes even chaotic world. More general visions for the future of education should be opened and multiple voices shared with a larger audience without discrimination. Making sustainable solutions is based on values, the structuring of which requires a broad, imaginative, and dynamic understanding of knowledge based on different perspectives. We hope that implications that can be drawn from this book focus on the future of early childhood education and towards a more responsible and diverse educational community and beyond. We hope that they will have a strong input for a society where decisions are made for the benefit of children’s well-being and learning, for our future.

Pictures Pixabay


Garvis, S., Philipsson, S. & Harju-Luukkainen, H. (2018). Volume I: Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century. International Teaching, Family and Policy Perspectives. Routledge.

Harju-Luukkainen, H., Kangas, J. & Garvis, S. (2022). Finnish Early Childhood Education and Care – A Multi-theoretical perspective on Research and Practice. Springer Nature (published June 2022). https://link.springer.com/book/9783030955113 

Harju-Luukkainen, H., & Kangas, J. (2021). The Role of Early Childhood Teachers in Finnish Policy Documents: Training Teachers for the Future? In W. Boyd, & S. Garvis (Eds.), International Perspectives on Early Childhood Teacher Education in the 21st Century (pp. 65-80). Springer Nature

Harju-Luukkainen, H., Garvis, S., & Kangas, J. (2019). “After Lunch We Offer Quiet Time and Meditation”: Early Learning Environments in Australia and Finland Through the Lenses of Educators. In S. Faas, D. Kasüschke, E. Nitecki, M. Urban, & H. Wasmuth (Eds.), Globalization, Transformation, and Cultures in Early Childhood Education and Care: Reconceptualization and Comparison (pp. 203-219). (Critical Cultural Studies of Childhood). Palgrave Macmillan.

Jokinen, A. & Nieminen, A. (2019). Visions for Early Childhood Education and Care 2040. Report on the Foresight.  Process by Advisory Board on Early Childhood Education and Care. Publications of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2019:30

Kangas, J., & Harju-Luukkainen, H. (2021). What is the future of ECE teacher profession? Teacher’s agency in Finland through the lenses of policy documents. The Morning Watch: Educational and Social Analysis, 47(1), 48-75.

Kangas, J., Harju-Luukkainen, H., Brotherus, A., Kuusisto, A., & Gearon, L. (2019). Playing to Learn in Finland: Early childhood Curricular and Operational Context. In S. Garvis, & S. Phillipson (Eds.), Policification of Early Childhood Education and Care: Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century Volume III (pp. 71-85). (Evolving Families). Routledge.

Kangas, J., Ojala, M., & Venninen, T. (2015). Children’s Self-Regulation in the Context of Participatory Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education. Early Education and Development, 26(5-6), 847-870.

Unicef. (2019). An unfair start: Inequality in children’s education in rich countries. United Nations.

This month’s GuestPen Jonna Kangas & Heidi Harju-Luukkainen

Jonna Kangas is a PhD of Education, Adjunct Professor, University Lecturer and joint research member in Playful Learning Center, Faculty of Education Science, University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on the pedagogy of ECEC including playful learning, teachers’ competence and critical curriculum research. She seeks to understand children’s and teachers’ learning processes through joy and participation, and she uses her findings to design innovative teacher training and mentoring programmes in Finland and developing countries. She is a director of the blended teacher training program at the University of Helsinki.

Professor Heidi Harju-Luukkainen has published more than 200 scholarly papers and worked in more than 30 projects globally. Harju-Luukkainen has worked in multiple countries in top research universities (UCLA, USC) as well as in many Nordic research universities (HU, JYU, GU, NORD, TUNI). She has developed education programs for universities, been a PI of PISA sub-assessments in Finland.

In their blogtext, Jonna and Heidi will discuss the dynamic and multi-theoretical basis of Early Childhood Education and Care in Finland.

Teacher education policies and practices together with a strong scientific foundation are the basis for the development of education in the future.  Finnish teacher education is based on a multi-disciplinary, multi-theoretical and critical approach, where the theory and practice form a holistic compound of teaching and learning in different contexts of ECEC.”

Feminist pedagogy as a tool for exploring gendered practices and power

By Outi Ylitapio-Mäntylä, PhD

I became familiar with the ideas and perspectives of feminist pedagogy in the late 1990s while studying for a master’s degree. I found bell hooks’ book (1994) Teaching to Transgress Education as the Practice of Freedom. This book had a major impact on me as a kindergarten teacher and made me rethink my work as an early childhood education teacher. As my studies progressed, I began to consider how to apply and develop aspects of feminist pedagogy in early childhood education and care. My reflections have continued to this day – I work as a teacher and researcher in the training of early childhood education teachers. I am particularly interested in gendered practices and issues of power in education, which have been the focus of my research since my dissertation (Ylitapio-Mäntylä 2009; 2013; 2020).

The idea of feminist pedagogy is to be aware of and dismantle gendered practices and power relations, to construct equal educational and teaching communities, to share and construct knowledge together and to consider teachers’ and children’s experiences, to consider an experience as a starting point for education and teaching. Although the development of feminist pedagogy has been attached to adult education, it is also applicable to early childhood education. The application of feminist perspectives in early childhood education makes it possible to review and evaluate pedagogical practices, particularly from the perspective of gendered and power practices and the state of knowledge. A key role is played by the teacher, who must be aware that everyday practices are related to gendered practices and power. For example, as an early childhood education teacher who participated in my research pondered:

“And then you are thinking about your role as a teacher. In everyday actions, well, even you can read instructions from magazines on how your activities are interacting with a child’s actions. You know that, but when you are really pondering what you are doing, you are assessing how you are using power in educational situations. (ECE Teacher)” (Ylitapio-Mäntylä 2013)

Teachers need opportunities or space to reflect on educational practices and to become aware of the hidden gender assumptions in institutional (power) structures that could stifle children’s opportunities to act, play and learn. Teachers often make stereotypical presumptions about girls and boys. The next excerpt describes a teacher´s experience in an early childhood education and care centre: 

“A boy, 6 years old, wanted to join the snowflake play. I was surprised about that. The boy came up to me because I was giving dresses to the girls. Well, then I realized that, and I thought: ‘Is it possible to give the snowflake dress to the boy because it looks like girls’ clothing’? (ECE teacher)” (Ylitapio-Mäntylä 2009)

The idea of feminist pedagogy is to expose the hidden practices that produce unnecessary gendered categories in teachers’ pedagogical activities. Classifications are created in different ways, for example, heteronormative categories create gendered categories that can prevent and suppress a child from acting and playing how they want to (Lyttleton-Smith 2017). The following excerpt shows how a teacher may guide children in a heterosexual way:

“I was teaching dance to the children. We went to the gym. I said, ‘Take a partner.’ Well, every boy took another boy for a partner and girls took girls. I said: ‘No.’ Then I explained that when your mom and dad go dancing, they dance together. Men dance with women. (ECE Teacher)” (Ylitapio-Mäntylä 2009)

In this excerpt, the purpose of the teacher was to teach the children to move and dance. In addition to teaching dance and movement, the situation built a culturally learned way of dancing as a girl–boy couple. Gender is thus strongly attached to the biological paradigm and the idea of sex as heterosexual (Blaise 2009; Robinson & Días 2006).

These examples illustrate children’s open-mindedness and that they see and experience things differently from adults. It is necessary to stop at children’s experience and knowledge. Feminist pedagogy emphasizes the importance of experience in teaching, which is based on the idea that everyone has knowledge, including young children. They already know. Overall, the starting point of feminist pedagogy is the possibility of learning together in a critical learning atmosphere. Children are open-minded and critical, but they need adults who think alongside them as dissident companions.

We need critical and reflective thinking in early childhood education and care settings. We need teachers who pose counter-questions, observe their pedagogical actions, realize the structures of power that exist in everyday life and at institutional levels and are aware that girls and boys have the same opportunities to act, play and learn.

Feminist pedagogy is an inspiring and powerful tool for reflecting on and studying gendered practices and power in education. For me, it has been a tool that has challenged my thinking as a teacher and researcher in early childhood education.


Blaise, M. (2009). “What a girl wants, what a girl needs”: Responding to sex, gender, and sexuality in the early childhood classroom. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 23: 4, 450-460. https://doi.org/10.1080/02568540909594673

Hooks, b. 1994. Teaching to Transgress. Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge.

Lyttleton-Smith, J. (2017). Objects of Conflicts: (Re) Configuring Early Childhood Experiences of Gender in The Preschool Classroom. Gender and Education. https://doi.org/: 10.1080/09540253.2017.1332343

Robinson, K. H., & Díaz, C. J. (2006). Diversity and Difference in Early Childhood Education. Issues for Theory and Practice. London: Open University Press.

Ylitapio-Mäntylä, O. (2020). Gender in Childhood (Finland). In: Jaakko Kauko & William Corsaro. Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350996489.0007

Ylitapio-Mäntylä, O. (2013). Reflecting caring and power in early childhood education: Recalling memories of educational practices. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research. 57: 3, 263–276  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00313831.2011.637230

Ylitapio-Mäntylä, O. (2009). Lastentarhanopettajien jaettuja muisteluja sukupuolesta ja vallasta arjen käytännöissä [Shared Stories of Early Education Teachers: Gender and Power in Everyday Practises.]. Rovaniemi: Lapin yliopistokustannus.

This month’s Guestpen Outi Ylitapio-Mäntylä

Outi Ylitapio-Mäntylä (PhD, education; Adjunct professor) is working as a University Lecturer in the faculty of education at the University of Oulu, Finland. Her research focuses on equality in the educational communities and her research interests also include power and agency especially in early childhood education. Her methodological interests are narrative inquiry and memory-work method. Recently she has explored agency and career choices of adults, focusing on how gendered practices impact the construction of agency.

In her blogtext, Outi writes how feminist pedagogy is a tool to exploring the gendered practices and power. She writes: ”Feminist pedagogy emphasizes the importance of experience in teaching. The teaching is based on the idea that everyone has the knowledge, including young children. They already know!

A family that reads is a happy family

In this weeks guestpen Juli-Anna Aerila

Reading and a love of books go well beyond academic skills or developing an extensive vocabulary. The impact of literature on children’s wellbeing has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Best et al. (2020) investigated children’s reading during the pandemic and found that children valued reading as an escape from harsh reality. Reading a

lso comforted childre and allowed them to reflect on and cope with negative emotions, uncertainty, and fear. Cultivating a habit of reading provides children with skills for life. In this blog entry, I will examine some aspects of family reading, and why every family should read together. 

Families are different readers

A love for and engagement with reading begins at an early age. Parents who read with their children daily enhance their children’s development and peace of mind and strengthen their relationships with their children (Ledger & Merga, 2018). Children learn to read for pleasure at home, and that is where they first learn to love reading (Duursma, Augustyn, & Zuckerman, 2008). Helping children develop a habit of reading at home depends on parents’ and other family members’ interest in, attitudes towards, abilities with, and uses of written language (Rizk, 2020). Almost all parents (98.7%) have read aloud to their children, and most parents (90.8%) read to their children at least occasionally (Ledger & Merga, 2018). Reading at home predicts children’s later receptive vocabulary, reading comprehension, and internal motivation to read (Demir-Lira et al., 2019). Furthermore, reading instruction enhances children’s understanding of rhyme and comprehension of new concepts (Sim & Berthelsen, 2014) and teaches them about society (Morrow, 2016).


Family reading moments are not only about reading books. During reading moments, parents – and their children – might discuss current topics related to books they are reading, describe the pictures in their own words, rephrase parts of the text, and connect the book’s content to their own experiences (Demir-Lira et al., 2019). Reading moments are an enjoyable activity that family members can do together (Levy & Hall, 2021; Sim & Berthelsen, 2014). Some parents associate shared reading with calming down and bonding. Parents enjoy the opportunity to spend quiet time with their children (Levy & Hall, 2021) and feel that reading together relieves stress (Ledger & Merga, 2018). However, sometimes a successful reading moment also leads to an atmosphere filled with fun, noise and laughter (Levy & Hall, 2021).

Despite the positive effects of family reading, not all families read together. Some parents may struggle to find time to read with their children, or they may be unsure how to create successful reading moments (Aerila & Kauppinen, 2021; Merga & Ledger, 2018). Furthermore, parents may have had negative experiences with reading when they were children, or they may have reading disabilities, unawareness of the benefits of reading, or lack appropriate reading materials (Duursma et al., 2008; Khanolainen et al., 2020). Prior research (Duursma et al., 2008; Ledger & Merga, 2018) shows that family reading plays an important role in providing all children with equal opportunities to grow and learn. Therefore, support for family reading is especially important for families with diverse backgrounds (Duursma et al., 2008). 

Families benefit from the support of educators

Family reading or literacy programs are activities that support, increase, or develop family reading (Hanon & Bird, 2004). Family reading programs can increase parents’ confidence in sharing books with their children, increase their interaction and communication with their child, and help families recognize the importance of reading together (Barrat-Pugh & Maloney, 2015; Meyer et al., 2016). In addition, family reading programs motivate parents to read with their children and help parents feel more confident about helping their children with academic assignments (Neyer, Szumlas, & Vaughn, 2021; Kauppinen & Aerila, 2022). Family reading programs also improve children’s understanding of the world and social skills and help teach them coping strategies (Duursma et al., 2008). These programs also encourage conversations between children and their parents, which helps children experience their parents’ love (Levy & Hall, 2021).  

Family reading programs use various implementation methods. Some programs have rather precise guidelines, while others are more open (Van Steensel et al., 2011). Some programs involve activities at day care centers and at home, while some are conducted exclusively in participants’ homes (Swain & Cara, 2014). For family literacy programs to be effective, the trainer must be aware of the family’s reading practices, of children’s and families’ interest in reading, and of parents’ involvement in children’s development (Meyer et al., 2016). The trainer must be sensitive to different families’ needs, values, cultures, and languages and must be able to implement the reading program in flexible ways (Levy & Hall, 2021; Swain & Cara, 2014). In a study of a family reading practice that uses a loaning library, we (Aerila, Kauppinen & Siipola, in process) find that parents want to use their own books as well as the books in the lending library. They also want flexible loan periods and had suggestions for at-home activities to do with books from the library. These comments highlight parents’ involvement in family reading programs and indicate the flexibility needed in such programs. Family reading programs usually work best when they are planned and implemented in cooperation with families.

Reading is a way to show affection

Engaged, motivated children are key to the success of any reading program (Aerila et al., in process; Levy & Hall, 2021). Children’s positive feedback is important to parents, and parents’ enjoyment of reading moments depends on their children’s enjoyment. In our study (in process), parents participated in the family reading program as long as the children were motivated, independent of the family’s prior reading culture. According to Levy and Hall (2021), to encourage parents to create family reading practices, it is important to not just encourage them to read, but to help families find ways to make reading enjoyable for both parent and child. Sometimes this enjoyment comes from laughing together while reading, sometimes a book is the source of enjoyment, and sometimes the best part is simply sitting together on a sofa. There are so many ways to create a successful family reading practice. However, the strongest motivation for frequent reading interactions is a happy child. This means that children are experts in engaging their families in reading moments. There is no right or wrong way to create reading-based interactions in a family. 


Aerila, J.-A. & Kauppinen, M. (2021). Kirjasta kaveri. Sytykkeitä lukijaksi kasvamiseen. [Spark the Reading. Inspiration to Becoming a Reader.] Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus.

Aerila, J.-A., Kauppinen, M. & Siipola, M. (in process). Bedtime Story Shelves as a Family Literacy Activity – Children as Motivators. 

Aerila, J.-A., Lähteelä, J., Kauppinen, M. & Siipola, M. (2021). Holistic literature education as an effective tool for social-emotional learning. In J. Tussey & L. Haas (eds.) Handbook of Research on     Supporting Social-Emotional Learning Through Literacy Education. Pennsylvania, USA: IGI-Global, (pp. 26–49). 

Barratt-Pugh, C. & Maloney, C. (2015) Growing better beginnings: An evaluation of a family literacy program for preschoolers. Issues in Educational Research 25(4): 364-380.

Best, E., Clark, C. and Picton, I. (2020). Children, young people and audiobooks before and during lockdown. National Literacy Trust.

Demir-Lira, Ö., Applebaum, L.R., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Levine, S.C. (2019). Parents’ early book reading to children: Relation to children’s later language and literacy outcomes controlling for other parent language input. Developmental Science, 22(3), e12764. doi: 10.1111/desc.12764.

Duursma, E., Augustyn, M. & Zuckerman, B. (2008). Reading aloud to children: The evidence. Archives of Disease in Childhood 93(7): 554-557.

Hanon, P. &  Bird, V. (2004). Family literacy in England: Theory, practice, research, and policy. In B. H. Wasik (eds.) Handbook of Family Literacy. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Khanolainen, D., Psyridou, M., Silinskas, G., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Niemi, P., Poikkeus, A.-M. & Torppa, M. (2020). Longitudinal effects of the home learning environment and parental difficulties on reading and math development across grades 1–9. Frontiers of Psychology, 08 October(2).

Kauppinen, M. & Aerila, J.-A. (2022). Iloa, hyvinvointia ja oppimista kirjallisuuskasvatuksesta. [Happiness, wellbeing, and learning from literature education] In: Ruokonen I (ed) Ilmaisun ilo. Käsikirja 0–8-vuotiaiden taito- ja taidekasvatukseen. [The Joy of Creativity. Handbook for the Arts Education of 0–8 Year Olds.] Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus.

Ledger, S. & Merga, M. K. (2018). Reading aloud: children’s attitudes toward being read to at home and at school. Australian Journal of Teacher Education 43(3). DOI: 10.14221/ajte.2018v43n3.8

Levy, R. & Hall, M. (2021). Family Literacies : Reading with Young Children. Abingdon: Routledge.

Meyer, L. E., Ostrosky, M., Yu, S. Y., Favazza, P.D., Mouzourou, C., Luling, L., & Park, H. (2016). Parents’ responses to a kindergarten-classroom lending-library component designed to support shared reading at home. Journal of Early Childhood Education 16(2): 256–278.

Morrow, L. M. (2016). Children’s Literacy Development in the Early Years. New York: Pearson.

Neyer, S. L., Szumlas, G. A. & Vaughn, L. M. (2021). Beyond the numbers. Social and emotional benefits of participation in the imagination library home-based literacy programme. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 21(1): 60–81.

Rizk, J. (2020). ‘Well, that just comes with being a mama”: The gendered nature of family literacy programs. Early Childhood Education Journal 48: 393–404. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-019-01009-4

Sim, S., & Berthelsen, D. (2014). Shared book reading by parents with young children: Evidence-based practice. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 39(1), 50-55. doi: 10.1177/183693911403900107.

van Steensel, R., McElvany, N., Kurvers, J. & Herppich, S. (2011). How effective are family literacy programs? Results of a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research 81(1): 69–96.

Swain, J. M. & Cara, O. (2014). Changing the home literacy environment through participation in family literacy programs. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 19(4): 431–458.

This months Guestpen Juli-Anna Aerila

My name is Juli-Anna Aerila. I am currently working at the University of Turku as a senior lecturer of the didactic of Finnish language and literature in Rauma campus. I have done my PhD in 2010 on children’s literature and literature education. Since then, I have concentrated on enhancing the reading engagement and pleasure of reading for children. The love for books and reading has many positive outcomes. Reading is not just for better academic success. It is also meaningful for social-emotional learning (SEL) as well as overall wellbeing and becoming empathetic towards others. My research interest include reading for pleasure, the pedagogical approaches to enhance the engagement in reading, the readership of educators, guardians as well as children and family reading in general.

In my blog entry, I will illustrate different perspectives to the benefits of enhancing the readership of families in ECE. Furthermore, I will give some practical examples on different family reading programs.

Writing pedagogical documents – static descriptions or dynamic road maps?

by Noora Heiskanen, Phd.

Writing is a complex duty

In current early childhood education and care (ECEC) institutions, as in all professional fields, the increasing amount of writing and documentation duties are described in curricula and legislation. This means that the importance of mastering the skill of writing as an ECEC professional has also increased (Erixon & Erixon Arreman, 2017).

This increase of documentation typically aims at increasing the overall quality of ECEC (Alasuutari, Markström, & Vallberg-Roth, 2014, p. 17). At the same time, educators often find writing and documentation difficult. It might take a lot of time (Buldu, 2010; Kovanen 2002; Repo et al., 2018, 97), and the time spent on writing takes away from time with the children (Hirsh, 2014). Moreover, educators may feel that they fail on documentation and writing tasks because of a lack of knowledge, time, or appropriate facilities (Rintakorpi, 2018). Interestingly, the previous research pictures the documentation practices (writing) and pedagogical practices (everyday life) as two discordant matters that have only a little in common (Millward et al., 2002).

So why do we as educators struggle with our documentation and writing duties? In this blog post, based on my research (Heiskanen, 2019), I illustrate how this discordance may have its root in the fundamental misunderstanding of pedagogical documentation in ECEC. Moreover, I aim at highlighting the importance of the way we write and document as an ethical matter.

Looking for the essence of documentation

Systematic documentation is seen as the cornerstone of support development especially for children with needs for support (see, e.g., Miller, 2014; Pretti-Frontczak & Bricker, 2000; Yell & Stecker, 2003). Yet, documentation has also its potential concerning all children to meet their individual needs. Documentation is a basis for planning in ECEC groups as educators need to identify children’s individual needs, interests, and strengths. For example, in the Finnish ECEC system, all children have an individualized pedagogical document, an ECEC plan, irrespective of their needs for support. The drafting of an individualized pedagogical document for a child has actually many positive consequences: it makes the support and later assessment more systematic and, consequently, helps professionals assure the functionality and individuality of support (Miller, 2014; Pretti-Frontczak & Bricker, 2000; Yell & Stecker, 2003).

Extensive research has illustrated the recommended practices for documentation (see Heiskanen, 2019 for review). To summarize these recommendations, first, multi-faceted and multi-voiced information about children’s strengths, interests, and needs for support needs to be gathered. After that, specific, measurable objectives and rigorously recorded measures of support are described in a child’s document. Finally, as a vital part in meeting child’s needs, continuous assessments of the effectiveness of support is conducted and documented. However, previous research suggests that the predominant convention is to mainly problematize a child in the documents and to include othering, problem-oriented descriptions instead of emphasizing detailed accounts of pedagogical work (e.g., Andreasson & Asplund Carlsson, 2013; Heiskanen, 2019; Hjörne & Säljö, 2004; Isaksson et al, 2007; Pihlaja, Sarlin, & Ristkari 2015). Simultaneously, the role of a child’s personal well-being, happiness, strengths, and flourishing seems to have a minor role in documents (Heiskanen, 2019). It is justified to say that in their current form, pedagogical documents often meet the recommendations and legislative requirements relatively poorly and consequently remain simple gateways to categorizing children instead of serving as cornerstones supporting their well-being, growth, and learning (Heiskanen, 2019).

Be an adventurer, draw a map

Even with the saddening state of documentation pictured in research, that’s not its full potential. I often describe  educators as adventurers supporting the child and well-written pedagogical documents as maps directing the process of support. This metaphor has its roots in the fact that pedagogical documents are often illustrated to have a two-fold function: first, they summarize the current situation, and second, they work as dynamic planning tools for professionals to raise pedagogical reflection and development also on a larger scale (see Hirsh, 2015; Korp, Sjöberg, & Thorsen, 2019). In a well-functioning pedagogical document, both the elements of stability (where are we now?) and the dynamic development-focused aspects (where are we heading?) are present at the same time (see also Hirsh, 2015). The profound pedagogical understanding and translation of documented contents from the point of view of everyday practices play a key role (see also Alasuutari et al., p. 36–37).

To summarize, to draft a pedagogical document, one must draft a map with a clear starting point (where we are?), an end point (where are we heading?), draw a concrete path (what do we need to do?), and every now and then, stop to see where the road has led us (how is the support working?). When we achieve our goal, we, as adventurers, set another goal, draw a new road, and continue our journey. Consequently, a pedagogical document is never finished in a way that it could be left aside; at its best, it captures the continuous process of planning. And as we are travelling together with a group of children in our ECEC groups, individual children’s pedagogical documents should be combined into a plan for shared pedagogical practices, bringing together individual children’s needs, interests, and strengths.

And why is this all so important?

One practical and ethically important viewpoint to documentation and writing is that when we write, we do not simply neutrally and harmlessly describe the child or our actions – we can also create, pass, and destroy things – socially. Writing does not in fact come with only positive consequences (see Miller & Rose, 2008; Parding & Liljegren, 2016; Sandberg, Lillvist, Eriksson, Björck-Åkersson, & Granlund, 2010). Instead, writing makes things permanent in a way spoken language never could (Ferraris, 2013). Documentation can direct the thinking and actions of people reading the documents even though they would be misleading, distorted, or untrue (Boyd, Ng, & Schryer, 2015; Farrell, 2009; Hjörne & Säljö 2008). This quality of documentation is often referred as replicability (see Smith, 2001) and is both a benefit and a danger of documentation.

Let’s illustrate this essence of replicability with an example. If we draw a map, which shows as only the starting point of our way, describes the child in a problem-oriented manner, and illustrates no answers on how to proceed, our writing consolidates that understanding about the child, about ECEC, and about our responsibilities as educators. However, if we focus on the travel plan, our aims of support, and our responsibilities as professionals, the document attests that even later when we are not there to tell the original meaning of the text.

Vigilance about the consequences of documentation is of great importance. While keeping in mind that a pedagogical document, even though it is often referred to as a child’s document, is not essentially about the child but about the pedagogy. The fundamental reason for drafting pedagogical documents is to use them as pedagogical tools for planning functional educational practices and support for children (see Parding & Liljegren, 2016). Therefore, while writing, it can be useful to reflect, whether you are:

highlighting a child’s personal blame or professional responsibility?

problematizing the individual or emphasizing pedagogy?

mainly drafting a description or making a concrete roadmap to functional support

(see Heiskanen, 2019)


Alasuutari, M., Markström, A.-M., & Vallberg-Roth, A.-C. (2014). Assessment and documentation in early childhood education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Alvestad, T., & Sheridan, S. (2015). Preschool teacher´s perspectives on planning and documentation in preschool. Early Child Development and Care, 185(3), 377–392. doi:10.1080/03004430.2014.929861

Andreasson, I., Asplund Carlsson, M., & Dovemark, M. (2015). Bedömnings-, dokumentationspraktiker och pedagogiska identiteter [Assessment and documentation practices and pedagogical identies]. Educare, 2, 206–233.

Andreasson, I., & Asplund Carlsson, M. (2013). Individual educational plans in Swedish schools – forming identity and governing functions in pupils’ documentation. International Journal of Special Education, 28(3), 58–67.

Andreasson, I., Asp-Onsjö, L., & Isaksson, J. (2013). Lessons learned from research on individual education plans in Sweden: Obstacles, opportunities and future challenges. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 28(4), 413– 426. doi:10.1080/08856257.2013.812405 84

Blackwell, W. H., & Rossetti, Z. S. (2014). The development of individualized education programs: Where have we been and where should we go now? Sage Open, 1–15. doi:2158244014530411

Buldu, M. (2010). Making learning visible in kindergarten classrooms: Pedagogical documentation as a formative assessment technique. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(7), 1439–1449. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2010.05.003

Boyd, V. A., Ng, S. L., & Schryer, C. F. (2015). Deconstructing language practices: discursive constructions of children in individual education plan resource documents. Disability & Society, 30(10), 1537-1553. doi:10.1080/09687599.2015.1113161

Christle, C. A., & Yell, M. L. (2010). Individualized education programs: Legalrequirements and research findings. Exceptionality, 13(3), 109–123. doi:10.1080.09362835.2010.491740

Erixon, P.-O., & Erixon Arreman, I. (2017). Extended writing demands – A tool for ‘academic drift’ and the professionalisation of early childhood profession? Education Inquiry, 8(4), 337–357. doi:10.1080/20004508.2017.1380488

Ferraris, M. (2013). Documentality: why it is necessary to leave traces. New York:Fordham University Press.

Hirsh, Å. (2015). IDPs at work. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 59(1), 77–94. doi:10.1080/00313831.2013.840676

Hirsh, Å. (2014). The individual development plan: supportive tool or mission impossible? Swedish teachers’ experiences of dilemmas in IDP practice. Educational Inquiry, 5(3). doi:10.3402/edui.v5.24613

Hjörne, E., & Säljö. R. (2008). Categorizing learners beyond the classroom. In M. Martin-Jones, A. M. de Mejia, & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education, 2nd ed., volume 3: Discourse and education. pp. 135–146. Netherlands: Springer.

Hjörne, E., & Säljö, R. (2004). ’There is something about Julia’. Symptoms, categories, and the process of invoking attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the Swedish school: a case study. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 3(1), 1–24. doi:10.1207/s15327701jlie0301_1 91

Isaksson, J., Lindqvist, R., & Bergström, E. (2007). School problems or individual shortcomings? A study of individual educational plans in Sweden. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 22(1), 75–91. doi:10.1080/08856250601082323

Korp, H., Sjöberg, L., & Thorsen, C. (2019). Individual development plans in the Swedish comprehensive school: Supporting high quality learning and equity, or rote learning and social reproduction? Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 63(2), 229–244. doi:10.1080/00313831.2017.1336478

Kovanen, P. (2002). Reaching towards individualization in planning for children with special needs. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 4(2), 190–202. doi:10.1080/15017410209510791

Miller, M. G. (2014). Productive and inclusive? How documentation concealed racialising practices in a diversity project. Early Years, 34(2), 146–160. doi:10.1080/09575146.2014.899998

Millward, A., Baynes, A., Dyson, A., Riddel, S., Banks, P., Kane, J., & Wilson, A. (2002). Individual education programmes. Part I: a literature review. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 2(3). doi:10.1111/j.1471-3802.2002.00170.x

Parding, K., & Liljegren, A. 2016. Individual development plans as governance tools –Changed governance of teachers’ work. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 61(6), 1–12. doi:10.1080/00313831.2016.1188144

Pihlaja, P., Sarlin, T., & Ristkari, T. (2015). How do day-care personnel describe children with challenging behaviour? Educational Inquiry, 6(4), 417–435. doi:10.3402/edui.v6.26003

Pretti-Frontczak, K., & Bricker, D. (2000). Enhancing the quality of individualized education plan (IEP) goals and objectives. Journal of Early Intervention, 23, 92–105. doi:10.1177/105381510002300204

Rintakorpi, K. (2018). Varhaiskasvatuksen tallentamisesta kohti pedagogista dokumentointia [From documentation towards pedagogical documentation in early childhood]. Helsinki: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Educational Sciences Helsinki Studies in Education, number 24.

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This month’s GuestPen Noora Heiskanen

Noora Heiskanen (Ph.D., early childhood special education teacher) works as a senior researcher in special education, Philosophical faculty in the University of Eastern Finland. Noora has studied pedagogical documentation and professional writing practices in early childhood education and care (ECEC). She has investigated how ECEC professionals document children’s needs for support and support planning as well as written communication during school transition.

In her upcoming blog post, Noora will illustrate how writing and documentation as professional tasks in ECEC are complex and sensitive issues. Writing, even though seemingly neutral and harmless, has many potential consequences. Based on her research, Noora asks, whether our current way of drafting support-related pedagogical documents actually constructs strong foundations for the support or is pedagogical writing more of a practice of categorizing the child.

More information about Noora and her research: https://uefconnect.uef.fi/en/person/noora.heiskanen/

“Challenges are often solvable with good attitude and cooperation” – Cultural sensitivity in the speech of preschool teachers

GuestPen by Riikka Sirkko and Taina Kyrönlampi

In this blog text, we review how cultural sensitivity is manifested in educators’ speech in the pre-primary education context in Finland.  In this context, educators mean early childhood teachers and nannies working in a pre-school group. This blogtext is based on our published research article (Sirkko  & Kyrönlampi, 2021).

Nowadays in Finland, there is an increasing number of children whose mother tongue is not Finnish and who come from different cultural backgrounds to early childhood settings (Jokikokko & Karikoski, 2016). The issues of equality, inequality and polarization present the most topical issues in the Finnish education debate at this time (Sévon et al., 2021).  According to the Finnish National Core Curriculum for Pre-primary Education 2014 (Finnish National Agency of Education, 2016), pre-primary education has to promote inclusion and cultural diversity and children’s equality. These same values are also key in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Unesco, 1991) and Salamanca Statement (Unesco, 1994). In our research, we understood inclusion as a broad concept which means the experience of inclusion for all individuals (Slee, 2011).

The concept of culturally sensitive education can be seen closely related to the ideology of inclusion; both concepts are grounded in similar values that embrace inclusivity (Taylor & Sobel, 2011). Both concepts aim to provide equal opportunities besides language, culture or social background. Also, the basic idea for both is to see the people behind the language, culture, disabilities, et cetera (Malinen, 2019).

In Finland, children start pre-primary education at the age of six, and it is compulsory for every child. Our research data consisted of interviews by three educators (two early childhood education teachers and one nursemaid) of one pre-primary school in Northern Finland. The educators discussed their thoughts evoked by a drawing (see picture below). The stimulus picture (designer Ojala, 2018) is based on the research project: “Politics of Belonging: Promoting children’s inclusion in educational settings across borders” (Nordforsk. Project No. 85644).

The phenomenological analysis resulted in two themes: individual support for children and cooperation with parents and local area actors. These two themes demonstrate how educators’ cultural sensitivity appeared in the pre-primary group.

The educators’ cultural sensitivity in this study manifested how the educators support children as individuals, not as members of a particular cultural group. Individuality was reflected, for example, in how educators described their actions in children’s play situations. Educators instructed children to think about what they wanted to play in free play, rather than pre-determining play activities based on the language background of the children?

“I think it has been agreed that we are being encouraged to think about it through making. That, what do you want to do?”

However, the children were often happy to play with friends from the same language group in free play situations, and children’s participation was best achieved in play situations. In free play situations, access to cooperative play may be hindered by factors related to Finnish language skills or intercultural understanding (Arvola et al., 2020).

The individuality also appeared when educators taught the children in smaller groups. In this way, the educators wanted to support the children’s’ Finnish language, identity and self-esteem. Educators believed that it would be easier for children to express themselves and their skills in small groups. In addition to supporting children’s individuality, educators should also pay attention to promoting belonging within the groups.

“It is safer in that little group to open it to their being and dare to be themselves. Then you dare to be in that whole group as well.”

The pre-school group actively brought out different cultures through various events and activities, like parental evenings, various parties and fairytale sessions held by parents. Daily situations when children arrived at or left from the preschool were important opportunities for educators to meet the parents. The educators saw the importance of working with parents and other actors in the neighborhood. Educators wanted the activities they provided to allow the parents to network and know other parents.

“…Social networking. That is one thing that we are aiming for. We have events like this where we get families together and in that way.”

The educators’ work required a common educational view (also Sirkko, 2020). The educators shared a similar, culturally sensitive habit to meet and see the child and adult behind the culture. Common humor and positive attitude towards work and cooperation were seen as a resource in the daily encounters. The educators felt a sense of belonging as one educator said:

“It is wonderful in this place when I have been here some time, and I don’t want to go away; it’s a sense of belonging. Because it (sense of belonging) grows by staff, we do work that whole community educate here, and the children can’t be the feelings of belonging of group if we don’t have it and we not do work for it actively.”

This sense of belonging, the common pedagogical view and culturally sensitive attitude served as a good starting point for working in a heterogeneous group and collaborating with parents.


Arvola, O., Reunamo, J., & Kyttälä, M. (2020). Kohti kieli- ja kulttuuritietoista kasvatusta. Kasvattajat lasten osallisuuden mahdollistajina varhaiskasvatuksen oppimisympäristöissä.  [Towards linguistic and cultural awareness in education. Educators as facilitators of children’s social participation in early childhood education.] Ammattikasvatuksen aikakauskirja [Journal of Vocational Education], 22(1), 44–60.

Finnish National Agency of Education, 2016. The core curriculum for pre-primary education 2014. https://www.oph.fi/sites/default/files/documents/esiopetuksen_opetussuunnitelman_perusteet_2014.pdf 

Jokikokko, K., & Karikoski, H. (2016). Exploring the narrative of a Finnish early childhood education teacher on her professional intercultural learning. Journal of Early Childhood Education Research, 5(1), 92–114. 

Malinen, H. (2019). Anna lapselle ääni: Kieli- ja kulttuuritietoisuuden voima kasvatuksessa. [Give your child a voice: The power of language and cultural awareness in education.] PS-kustannus.

Ojala, S.  (2018). Stimulus Picture. 

Sévon, E., Hautala, P., Hautakangas, M., Ranta, M., Merjovaara, O., Mustola, M., & Alasuutari, M. (2021). Lasten osallisuuden jännitteet varhaiskasvatuksessa. [Tensions of children’s participation in early childhood education].  Journal of EarlyChildhood Education Research, 10(1), 114–138.

Sirkko, R. & Kyrönlampi, T. (2021). “Haasteet on monesti ratkaistavissa hyvällä asenteella ja yhteistyöllä” Kulttuurisensitiivisyys esiopetusryhmän kasvattajien puheessa omasta työstään. [“The challenges are often solvable of good attitude and cooperation.” Cultural sensitivity in the speech of pre-school teachers. Journal of Early Childhood Education Research Volume 10, Issue 3, 2021, 64–92

Sirkko, R. (2020). Teachers as professional agents in promoting inclusion. The University of Oulu, Faculty of Education.

Slee, R. (2001). (2001). “Inclusion in practice”: Does practice make perfect? Educational Review, 53(2), 113–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131910120055543

Taylor, S. V., & Sobel, D. M. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy: teaching like our students’ lives matter. Emerald.

Turunen, T. (2018). Early childhood education and care in Finland. In The Intercultural needs of educators in early childhood services: The results of an international research realized in the framework of the Erasmus+ KA2 Strategic Partnerships Multicultural Early Childhood EducationMECEC+ project (p. 21–24.). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327816755_The_Intercultural_Needs_of_Ed ucators_in_Early_Childhood_Services

United Nations. (1994). Salamanca statement. https://www.european-agency.org/sites/default/files/salamanca-statement-and-framework.pdf

United Nations. (1991). Yleissopimus lapsen oikeuksista [Convention on the rights of the child.] https://finlex.fi/fi/sopimukset/sopsteksti/1991/19910060/19910060_2

This month’s GuestPen Riikka Sirkko and Taina Kyrönlampi

In one week, we get to read the next GuestPen which is written by PhD Riikka Sirkko and PhD Taina Kyrönlampi. They both work at the University of Oulu. Riikka Sirkko works as a university teacher in special education. Her research interest is the concept of inclusion in different contexts from pre-primary school to university. Taina Kyrönlampi works as a university lecturer in early childhood education. Her research interest is pre-primary  education. She is interested in  children’s everyday life in pre-primary school. Both researchers participated in the project ”Politics of belonging: Promoting children’s inclusion in educational settings across borders” 2018-2020 funded by Nordforsk. Their blogtext